shunsho cuckoo shunga
Marijn Kruijff
3 min

The Superb Haikai Album of the Cuckoo by Katsukawa Shunshō

3 min

Katsukawa Shunshō (c.1726-1792) is one of the preeminent artists of the ukiyo-e, and the most important one of the era between Harunobu and the great masters of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He is one of the few that can also be acknowledged as a great painter and not only as a designer of book illustrations and woodblock prints.

Mentor of Many of the Ukiyo-e Greats

When Shunshō founded the Katsukawa school, derived from the Miyagawa school (Miyagawa Chōshun), he trained many of the ukiyo-e greats such as Shun’ei (1762-1819), Shunkō (1743-1812), Shunchō (act. 1780-1795), and, above all, Shunrō, who later changed his name to Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

Shunshō’s Exceptional Erotica

Besides the daily management of the Katsukawa studio and working in various ukiyo-e genres such as kabuki-e (actor print) and bijin-ga (female portraits), Shunshō also produced some exceptional erotica. These were rich in color and full of emotion.


This is true for ‘Haikai Album of the Cuckoo‘ which is one of the artist’s most successful in terms of relation between the images and the dialogues between the protagonists.

So let’s take a look at a few of those striking examples…

katsukawa shunsho

Fig.1. ‘Intimate spouses and cat‘ (c.1788) from the series ‘Haikai Album of the Cuckoo (Ehon haikai yokubo-dori)‘ by Katsukawa Shunshō

Doing the Laundry

A design (Fig.1.) featuring a subject cherished by shunga artists, with a husband mounting his wife from the rear while she bents over a tub. She is doing the laundry outside the house (probably in the garden) as indicated by the sandals they both wear.

Fallen Clog

The fallen clog of the female emphasizes the quickness of her spouse’s movement, and ensures that she must seek support on the tub and his forearm. He reveals to her that he could not withstand the view of her from behind, but she berates him for being stupid, because they can be viewed from all sides.


The puppy cat, in the meantime, yelps brusquely, and looks provocatively at their active private parts. He is also given some modest dialogue in which he expresses his enjoyment at the spectacle and its seminal outcome. The intertwining of the lover’s legs, their eyes closed in bliss, and the fluids released indicate the intensity and pleasure of their sensations.

katsukawa shunsho

Fig.2. ‘A one-sided intimate encounter in the dark‘ (c.1788)

Nocturnal Violence

In this tableau (Fig.2.) Shunshō uses the device of a beam of light from a paper lantern standing on the floor, to highlight the intimate activities of a young housekeeper and a middle-aged samurai. The result is a scene of nocturnal violence in which the couple’s faces and genital organs are brightly lit.

shunsho shunga art


Chōmeimaru Aphrodisiac

Shunga emphasize the pleasure which women experience in sex. In this design (Fig.3) of a married couple, the husband complains of the exhausting effects of the Chōmeimaru aphrodisiac. His wife, meanwhile, throws her head back in orgasmic ecstasy, clutching the pillow and curling her toes.

Katsukawa Shunsho

Fig.4. ‘Couple preparing for intercourse‘ (c.1788)

Extraordinary Work of Art

Although Haikai Album of the Cuckoo is undoubtedly an extraordinary work of art, it must be remembered that it was produced in the same year as the most famous erotic masterpiece of the Floating World, namely Utamaro‘s Poem of the Pillow (Utamakura).

In our Premium section you can find a more extensive version of the article including more tableaux and insights on this important shunga work by Shunsho.

You can check out some great shunga art by one of Shunshō’s most talented pupils by clicking HERE…!!

Sources:  ‘Shunga, Erotic Art in Japan‘ by Rosina Buckland
Poem of the Pillow and Other Stories…‘ by Gian Carlo Calza

Who is your favorite shunga artist?